By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA
In education-based athletics, winning games or championships is not the only or ultimate objective. The priority has to be the growth and development of the student-athletes. And this does not mean solely the improvement of sport-specific skills, but rather life-long values and qualities.
Of course, planning, preparing and striving to win games are still important parts of coaching a team. There is nothing wrong with athletes and coaches working hard to achieve this common goal. Therefore, coaches should be knowledgeable, provide constructive instruction and make adjustments during games.
Young people want coaches who know the game, can teach skills and help them to improve in order to be better athletes. This is pretty much a normal, universal expectation. It is a given. But good coaches within the education-based athletic concept have to provide more. And athletes need more from coaches.
Following are a few things that student-athletes desire and value in their coaches.
To enhance the athletic experience so that it is enjoyable. In simple terms, being part of a team has to be fun. This is actually the No. 1 reason that students participate in athletics and this also doesn’t mean that every practice session is synonymous with a party. But if something happens that is funny, enjoy it and laugh.
While young people are willing to work hard and do strive to win, they want to enjoy the interaction with their friends on the team and the coaching staff. Therefore, coaches can set high standards and expect that athletes to execute, but they also have to be aware that a positive, enjoyable environment is also necessary.
- To show real care and concern for their athletes. This doesn’t have to be complicated, and it definitely shouldn’t be confined to their performance on the field or floor. This effort by the coach can be as simple as asking, for example, “How did you do on your test today?”
In education-based athletics, participation in a sport should enhance a student’s growth and development. And when a coach shows interest in and a willingness to help athletes beyond the practice field, this process really kicks into high gear.
- To provide strength and guidance. This means that a coach should help student-athletes through difficult times and not simply coping after a tough loss. A coach should be there when family problems arise, with challenges in the classroom or with other issues in a young person’s life.
Athletes naturally look to coaches as their anchor and a person who they can count on when needed. While coaches may not have every answer, they can provide a calm, reassuring presence and point the young person in the direction to get the needed help.
- To serve as a leader. Athletes – and also fans – need someone to show them how to interact and relate with others – coaches, officials and spectators. This aspect could also be referred to as serving as a role model.
A leader in any setting or enterprise – not just athletics – should be the stimulus for helping those around him or her to reach their potential. It is important, therefore, to realize that one approach may not reach every student-athlete because each is unique.
- To be dependable and consistent. It is absolutely essential that a coach is a person of his or her word. For example, if a coach promises to write a letter of recommendation for one of his or her athletes, it needs to be done in a timely fashion. And student-athletes also need to be able to feel that everyone is being treated fairly and in the same manner as others.
Even simple, little things are important. For example, coaches need to start and end practices on time to allow athletes and their parents to plan their own schedules. And when employing team discipline, coaches cannot make special allowances for some athletes and continually change approaches. Athletes need to be able to count on their coaches.
- To effectively communicate with student-athletes. This doesn’t mean that you have to use the prevailing slang, but it does involve being able to explain things in a clear and concise manner. The main objective is for young people to understand a coach’s expectations and explanations.
A good strategy is to be straight-forward with athletes and perhaps temper some explanations with a little tact in order to avoid hurting their feelings. When making corrections involving skills and techniques, coaches should give young people an honest appraisal of their playing ability and what they can do to improve without destroying their hope and confidence.
- To exist as a person who young people can trust morally and ethically. It is important that a coach works to prevent hazing and bullying and to avoid inappropriate relationships. This will also include the hazards and problems of cyber-bullying and problems arising from social media sites.
Coaches not only have to serve as a role model by doing what is right, they also should employ teachable moments in order to help student-athletes develop their own life compasses. Teaching ethics and morality through participation on a team can and should be one of the most important goals in education-based athletics.
When it comes time to reflect upon the impact of a coach, and this may happen years later, the scores of games will be forgotten and even season records will be hard to recall. Almost anyone can teach sport-specific skills and make substitutions during games. However, quality coaches don’t focus on the wins, but are nurturing and encouraging, and provide student-athletes with the support and leadership to be successful in life. Athletes need coaches who place their welfare and interest first.
About the Author:
Dr. David Hoch recently retired as the athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 350 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.